Vacuform Basics

The case for vacuforms hasn't been helped by their reputation for being particularly difficult to build - I think this is largely fostered by people who've never actually built one. In reality, vacuform kits aren't particularly harder to tackle than most short-run kits and, by ignoring them, modellers are depriving themselves of many exciting subjects that have yet to appear in other forms.

Through talking with many modellers, it seems to be right at "square one" where things go wrong... just getting parts ready to use. The aim of this introductory article is to try to dispel some of the fear in which vacuforms are held, set out some easy techniques for getting over this first hurdle and so encourage more people to have a go at this enjoyable and, ultimately, very satisfying style of modelling. Obviously, I'm primarily an aircraft modeller, but I think the techniques will be basically applicable to all types of model.

The pain is in the parting?...
The first task with any vacuform model is to remove the parts from the surrounding sheet of plastic. The way almost all commercial vacuforms are moulded means that when the parts are cut out they also include the thickness of the plastic sheet. This excess must be removed to achieve the true size of the parts and there are two popular methods which make it easy to see just how much plastic to remove:

1. The first way is to use a permanent marker, ink or thinned paint to mark the outlines of parts on the sheet.

2. The second way is to spray the entire sheet with an aerosol primer. Some modellers prefer this method because it also highlights any blemishes which will need attention later.

Both methods work equally well and the only important thing with either technique is to make sure the paint or ink reaches right into the angle at the base of the parts; if it doesn't, you'll hit problems in the following stage.
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About the Author

About Rowan Baylis (Merlin)

I've been modelling for about 40 years, on and off. While I'm happy to build anything, my interests lie primarily in 1/48 scale aircraft. I mostly concentrate on WW2 subjects, although I'm also interested in WW1, Golden Age aviation and the early Jet Age - and have even been known to build the occas...


Very nice article Merlin !! You explained it very well. After reading your article, I would like to try to do a vac model myself. What would be a good starter kit, or do vac's basicly have the same difficulty ??
AUG 23, 2005 - 11:01 PM
Thanks for that Rowan. Like so many I never realy considered Vacform kits, untill I won one in Costas's free draw give away. This is a great help seeing as I'm a total Facvorm virgin. looking forward to further instalments. Good idea Dave, I'm in on that. Maybe an informal on-line group build? Not sure if we would find 10 people with a vacform kit... . Cheers Henk
AUG 23, 2005 - 11:13 PM
Great Feature article, Rowan! I personally have messed a little with vacu-form while building the wood and paper airbirds, but have never tried to tackle a complete vac kit...your tips and technique just may prompt me to do so! Thanks for the time and effort to put something like this together, sir... Gunny
AUG 23, 2005 - 11:13 PM
Very good and very usefull! Tanks for sharing! Cheers and happy modelling! Prato
AUG 24, 2005 - 02:25 AM
I'd join in too! I have a TSR2 and a BAE Nimrod MR2 to build, but have shied away from them.
AUG 24, 2005 - 02:48 AM
Hi all Well, I guess I'd obviously have to join in! :-) I've got quite a few stashed away, so I'd be spoilt for choice. Hi mossieram No, the difficulty can vary greatly. Depending what type of aircraft you're interested in, it'd be worth you checking out the models produced by Aeroclub, Dynavector, Koster and Sierra Scale - there are plenty of others, but those four are good for starters. Sierra Scale's Consolidated P-30 and Fairchild PT-19 were the subjects of the first two reviews I wrote for Armorama. The model I'm building is Koster's Martin Maryland - a neat kit, but probably a bit ambitious for a first vacuform kit. All the best Rowan
AUG 24, 2005 - 03:18 AM
Rowan: Thanks for the article !!!! Very informative & filled in at least one question I had (angle of blade when scoring). I bought my first vacuform kit at the IPMS Nats -- the Sierra 1/48 P-30 / PB-2A. I wanted something "easy" (no big complex things) and yet something I hadn't done in plastic and something of interest to me. I'm very pleased with the kit (great scale drawings to help with adding detail), but had only gotten around to the marker step, although not as neat & complete as you describe, so tomorrow I'll be sure to get in the cracks & crevasses. If we're going to do a vac-GB, then I could be in with this kit, but I'd like to see a schedule for the GB, as I really want to get started on this. Again, great article & looking for follow-ons. John
AUG 24, 2005 - 01:15 PM
A big help for people taking that first deep breath before the plunge in to the alternative world of Vacs. And I notice its quite an old feature....I was a lot younger when this first ran on site, (not quite short pants). So its a good idea its given an airing as the subject of Vacs seems to be cropping up more often recently. Great job Rowan....any sequal(s) planned? Cheers Peter
JUN 04, 2008 - 12:50 AM
Very good ... How about a little more advanced methods like building the bulkheads and such. is there info on that too. Thanks, Kelly
JUN 10, 2008 - 08:34 AM
I'm with kelly on that one . More detail on bulkheads , and attaching the wings ?
JUN 10, 2008 - 11:16 AM